It’s time for another Good Fiction Spotlight, in light of all the “Bad Fiction Spotlights” I’ve done. This Good Fiction Spotlight goes to James McDonough’s The Defense of Hill 781.
The book is intended as a late Cold War version of the classic Defence of Duffer’s Drift and is styled as such. The action is evenhanded, detailed, and possibly a little over-detailed. But here’s what sets it apart. Instead of trying to move away from its inherent artificiality, it embraces it completely.
There are very good reasons for this in the proper context-it’s meant to be educational and show the equivalent of a “battle” in the National Training Center in detail-this isn’t attempting to illustrate a full World War III or any other story in any other sense. It’s not like I think McDonough made a deliberate stylistic choice to focus the story entirely on a completely artificial engagement. It was just the nature of a Duffer’s Drift-style tale.
However inadvertedly, the book nonetheless is the closest in-print work to the kind of artificial OPFOR thriller I talked about wanting to see-making no pretentions about being anything more than what it is, and having a sense of humor that stands out in an otherwise serious genre.
I have discovered an excellent tool for conlanging that has helped me get over the hump of trying to come up with names and basic places.
That tool is called Vulgar. It has a free/demo version and a relatively cheap full version. At the push of a button, you can make a gramatically distinct and coherent language with a distinct vocabulary. Just tweak a few phonemes, and it can be distinct without resembling garbled English full of apostrophes.
For making names in non-English languages, it’s helped me tremendously. All I need to do is fire it up, yank a few terms that could easily be applied to proper names, and there I have it. I highly recommend Vulgar. For those who know linguistics, it’s not a substitute for a hand-built conlang and was never intended to be one, but it’s invaluable nonetheless.
So, I’ve torn into enough bad military fiction to go, “What about good military fiction?” And so I’ll answer it by pointing to a guilty-pleasure cheap thriller favorite ebook of mine: Kevin Miller’s Raven One.
Written by a naval aviator, it covers the adventures of a few aircraft carrier pilots as they fight in the Middle East. Now I’ve mentioned it before, but thought I should go into some more detail as to why I like it so much.
It’s not perfect, it still has some perspective-jumping, still has a lot of technical overdetail, still isn’t exactly the deepest in its plot or characterization. But it’s got a recognizable main character. Some of the perspective shifts make sense, as it shows the team of fighters in an individual battles. It feels overall like part of a whole. The enemy is given a handicap to make them stronger, not weaker, while at the same time not being monstrously overhyped. And for the jargon, there’s a sense of immediacy, of being there in the fighter with the heroes.
Having seen the pitfalls of what the genre can fall into, I can say that Raven One avoids a lot of them. And for that reason alone, it’s well worth a read.
For the summer sale, I got This Is The Police, a police simulation game. I went in loving it, and came out feeling mixed about it.
First, what I liked about it:
- The gameplay is basically serviceable, and more about timing management than anything else. There’s an investigation mode I struggled with, and I was reminded somewhat of Black Closet’s similar but more detailed mechanics. It’s serviceable, but not enough to carry the player through the overly-long campaign.
- The dark humor brought a smile to my face. If the game was more open-ended, had “survive for this long”, and had officers asking to leave for the dumbest reasons and weird false alarms from callers with either too much or too little mediciation, I would love it. The problem is the main plot, which in addition to its own problems, contradicts the wacky hijinks to a huge extent-it’s trying to be both The Wire and The Simpsons at once.
Now for what I didn’t like:
- The game is too long, and has the “flail around blind and probably lose or robotically follow a guide and win” effect. Way too long. It could have been half as long as it was and still be as good.
- The story. Oh, the story. It’s too dark, the characters are cliches, and it doesn’t fit the dark humor goofball trend of the gameplay. Here should be this weird management simulator, and instead I get a fifth-rate wannbe-noir plot.
- There’s too much disconnect between the good man trying to hold the police together even as he’s sucked into evil that the main character is in the story, and the guy who had mobsters kill three officers so that he could sell their corpses to a mad scientist for cash I played in the gameplay.
The game is still fun and still worth getting (especially on sale), it’s just it could be more. For this kind of investigative game, if you can tolerate the high-school setting, Black Closet does it better mechanically.
So, I’ve been helping my mother move, and have been cleaning out my old books. A lot of memories returned. Good books, bad books, and everything in between.
The in-betweens are getting tossed.
- Legitimately good books are occasionally going with me. I was keen on saving Stephen Baxter’s Exultant, one of my formative science fiction works. And save it I did.
- Legitimately mega-bad books all stay with me too.
The books getting removed are mostly mediocrities, or ones from series I no longer have an interest in but did back in the day-the embarassingly large number of Warhammer 40,000 ones certainly qualify.
It’s weird that I can rattle off a huge number of books I found bad, but when, in a conversation, it came to recommending ones I legitimately enjoyed, I had to struggle a bit.
Maybe I could recommend books I found enjoyably bad or mediocre to see if others liked them unreservedly?
Most holiday songs are either repetitive classics, glitzy pop with thematic lyrics, or, at their absolute worst, repetitive classics produced in the style of glitzy pop. Thankfully, I heard one that doesn’t fit the category.
That song is The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles. And it wasn’t even intended as a holiday song per se, instead being in remembrance of a lost bandmate. Yet somehow it also works for the seeming meaning of people separated by a long distance. I guess it’s that good.
I guess I have the image of the song playing as the camera pans over a winter battlefield littered with bodies, broken tanks and artillery, and ends up with, as the lyrics describe, people singing in a nearby town.
The latest Payday 2 super-event is over, and I’m glad to say that Overkill learned their lesson from the mess that was Crimefest 2015. (They even poked fun at it with the trailer).
Not only was the content far less controversial than the microtransactions of last year, but the lack of a challenge meant that it was not going to be overhyped like the last time.
I like the new safehouse, even if the “raid” missions are a little too Warframe-y for my tastes. In all, it was a good event.
What separates good alternate history online from bad alternate history online (besides the usual literary qualities)? I think it’s whether or not the authors have a “not one step back” attitude.
Not whether or not they’re willing to defend their choices, but how willing they are to let implausibilities slide, to treat fiction like fiction instead of “This is my genius, so I’m offended that you’d attack my genius”.
This is why I liked a story called “Zhirinovsky’s Russian Empire” for all its flaws (including a contrived way of getting the title character into office in the first place), while the work in previous Bad Fiction Spotlights stood out for authors who stubbornly defended every last bit.